It comes as no surprise that Southern California’s culinary geography is an all-longitude, all-latitude, all-access feast. But with all the effort expended to anoint future gastronomic monarchs, it pays to revisit the venerable establishments that forged our global reputation
by LINDA BURUM, MILES CLEMENTS, C. THI NGUYEN & S. IRENE VIRBILA / photographs by BRIAN LEATART
Los Angeles / 310-398-7700
In an old IHOP that now more resembles a Scandinavian ski lodge, Food & Wine 2010 Best New Chef Roy Choi—founder of the Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck—has crafted a menu of fun food that’s, well, mostly messy. Forget utensils, this fabulous fare is meant to be devoured with the hands.
Culver City / 310-845-1700
Chef-owner Akasha Richmond’s comfort-food menu, with its eye on the organic and sustainable, will please carnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike. Think pulledpork sliders, beans and rice, even grass-fed flat-iron steaks.
Los Angeles / 323-871-2666
Daniel Mattern’s cooking has a relaxed, pure California assurance— he lets the ingredients speak for themselves, changing the menu with his farmers’-market finds. Plus, his partner, Roxana Jullapat, makes dreamy desserts.
Los Angeles / 323-297-0070
Gino Angelini’s eatery specializes in rustic Italian cooking, much of it from Rimini on the Adriatic coast, where the chef grew up. Get a sidewalk table if you can, and order a pizza. Doesn’t matter which, as all taste like the old country: thin crusted with a beautifully balanced tomato sauce.
Los Angeles / 323-782-9225
Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have built one of our more popular restaurants through sheer exuberance and an over-the-top carnivorous sensibility, consistently taking meat where it never knew it wanted to go. The signature dessert— a bacon-chocolate crunch bar—pretty much says it all.
Culver City / 310-204-5500
Denizens of nearby Sony Studios and other Westside fans of southern- Indian vegetarian cuisine are thrilled they no longer have to drive to Artesia’s Little India for heavenly rava dosa, idly, uthappam and channa batura.
ASAL BAKERY & KABOB
Woodland Hills / 818-436-2353
Co-owner Reza Abdollahi’s expertise in sangak—which is to Iranians what baguettes are to the French—may be why legions line up daily. Depending on how they’re prepped, the bathmat-size breads are great with breakfast or dinner.
Studio City / 818-760-3348
To the devotees of this sushi-rich stretch of Ventura Boulevard, Asanebo’s omakase—a procession of sheer halibut slices and, say, crab legs or ruby-red strips of tuna—is a rite of passage.
San Gabriel / 626-288-7265
This progressive restaurant features boutique Baja wines instead of margaritas and specials like roasted guava soup and pork fat–poached cod over huitlacoche pesto. Chef Roberto Berrelleza never stops inventing.
BANH MI CHO CU
Westminster / 714-891-3718
The tiny Vietnamese bakery and restaurant makes some of the best bread in Little Saigon—crisp, buttery and perfect with the exem- plary bánh mì loaded with cold cuts and freshly pickled veggies.
Silver Lake / 323-662-2442
Claudio Blotta (of Campanile) may have the most serious wine bar in L.A., and the Meditteranean selections from chef Don Dickman always work beautifully with your selections. With a languid boho charm apparent on the patio, this is a wonderful place to catch up with friends, learn about wine and just enjoy life.
THE BAZAAR BY JOSE ANDRÉS
Los Angeles / 310-246-5555
Chef Andrés’ tapas bar, Rojo y Blanca, serves both radical and traditional little bites that charm and delight with laser precision. But to best experience creations from this award-winning chef, reserve at Saam, the private dining room in the back.
BEIJING PIE HOUSE
Monterey Park / 626-288-3818
At this xian bing specialist, there’s a dozen kinds of homespun meatand vegetable-filled pies, as well as other savory northern Chinese pastries: flatbreads, sesamepaste pancakes and griddle bread rolled around sauced beef shards.
Compton / 310-637-1342
The operative order here at this family-run south L.A. barbecue joint is the Texas Sampler, featuring every slow-smoked meat on the menu—in every form: pork ribs, beef ribs, rib tips, chicken links, pulled pork, pork shoulder, brisket. Bring a friend...or three.
Beverly Hills / 310-271-9910
Cannes may be Beverly Hills’ sister city, but for a top French bistro, we had to wait until 2009, when the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller opened this outpost of his landmark Napa Valley restaurant. It closely follows the Napa Valley original’s format, and everything is just as impeccably executed.
Garden Grove / 714-530-1744
This is the place where the Vietnamese spring roll known as nem nuong cuon became a craveinducing commodity. The noodle soups and rice dishes are a great gateway into Little Saigon, too.
BULGARINI GELATO ARTIGIANALE
Altadena / 626-791-6174
The reward for the journey to this rigorously Italian dessertery is a case full of vivid gelato and sorbet, with imaginative flavors like white tea, goat’s milk, blood orange, chile-spiked strawberry and a profound Sicilian pistachio.
Los Angeles / 323-938-1447
One of L.A.’s most influential restaurants, this Mediterranean-inspired spot was founded by Mark Peel and then wife Nancy Silverton. The dramatically redone 1929 structure was built originally for Charlie Chaplin. Multi-award-winning chef Peel buys the best and prepares his impeccably sourced ingredients simply.
Glendale / 818-246-7775
Meals here can be built almost entirely around mezza (little bites): a batch of basterma crostini crowned with fried quail eggs, spicy muhammara or maybe manté, meat dumplings bathed in tomato sauce and tangy yogurt. It’s perhaps L.A.’s most serious Lebanese-Armenian restaurant.
CASA BIANCA PIZZA PIE
Eagle Rock / 323-256-9617
For some, Casa Bianca is the only neighborhood pizzeria that matters. The wait for the pies is legendary, but the payoff is clear and consistent—bubbling odes to midcentury Italian-Americana.
CEMITAS POBLANOS ELVIRITA
Boyle Heights / 323-881-0428
Think massive Mexican sandwiches so overstuffed they make typical tortas seem like teatime snacks. Take the locals’ lead, and order one filled with classic carnitas or chicken bathed in mole.
CHURCH & STATE
Los Angeles / 213-405-1434
Getting to this vibrant bistro in downtown’s depths may require a map, but once you taste the oysters, escargot, charcuterie spreads, bouillabaisse and other French classics, it won’t matter.
Century City / 310-552-1080
The photo of owner Annie Miler as a kid holding a cake says it all. This woman loves to bake, and the proof is in the pastry: strawberry scones, raspberry corn muffins, snickerdoodles, lemon cream cake with berries and so much more.
Los Angeles / 310-279-4180
The go-to spot for ICM agents lunching with clients, Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio’s restaurant offers a master class in contemporary American cuisine. The menu relies on simplicity, expert execution and superb ingredients.
Beverly Hills / 310-276-8500
First, Wolfgang Puck helped invent California cuisine, and here he reinvents the steakhouse. The menu breaks ground with starters that hold their own with beef, and the Richard Meier–designed space is airy and minimalist.
DIN TAI FUNG
Arcadia (two locations) / 626-446-8588, 626-574-7068
The object of affection here is the humble Shanghai-style soup dumpling, xiao long bao—thinskinned pouches bursting with pork and a tidal rush of hot broth.
Monterey Park / 626-282-9998
Next-generation dim-sum joints no longer have diners desperately waving down carts: Now there’s a menu. Sweet barbecue pork buns, delicate shrimp har gow, even some novel and unique items. Well worth the inevitable wait.
Pico Union / 213-386-7361
A legion of aficionados contends this quintessential L.A.-Mexican experience serves some of the city’s best birria de chivo—the Guadalajaran specialty of roast kid in garlicky tomato consommé.
Pasadena (two locations) / 626-844-8804, 626-577-1828
As every food-aware Pasadenan will tell you, the truly essential item here is the café’s wonderful open-face egg-salad sandwich— beads of golden yolk trickling from a handsome mass of soft-boiled eggs on exquisite bread.
Culver City / 310-736-2224
When chef Sang Yoon introduced the Office Burger in Santa Monica, everybody showed up—and with no reservations, they waited. Then came Father’s Office 2.0 in the Helms Bakery complex. Still no reservations, but at least there’s more room to wait.
Venice / 310-450-1429
No sign on the door, challenging parking, impossible noise level... and be sure to call days ahead for a table. But Travis Lett’s sensuous California cooking—great pizzas, lush salads, earthy pastas and some of the best vegetable dishes ever—is worth all the hassle.
Los Angeles / 213-427-0608
Lynwood / 310-884-9234
The standard-bearer of Oaxacan cuisine is one of the city’s most enduring regional Mexican restaurants. Look past the vibrant colors and occasional live music to find deeply complex moles and pizzasize clayudas showered with stringy quesillo cheese.
Los Angeles / 323-935-2977
Quinn Hatfield’s California-French cooking is focused and consistently well executed. All-American desserts from wife Karen Hatfield are always a pleasure. And in Peter Birmingham, they have one of the more knowledgeable sommeliers around.
Santa Monica / 310-451-2311
There’s always a line for Zoe Nathan’s maple-bacon biscuits, vanilla-scented doughnuts and dense, buttery coffee cake. Just what the neighborhood needed.
HUGE TREE PASTRY
Monterey Park / 626-458-8689
Taiwanese breakfast here has all the comfort-food familiarity of its American counterpart, just slightly refracted. Warm soy milk, sticky rice on fried doughnuts, fried daikon cakes, curried-pork dumplings, wheat-cake beef sandwiches— great way to start the day.
Los Angeles / 323-655-6566
Young Hollywood loves veteran chef Suzanne Tracht’s retro- American menu, which doesn’t change much. So if her fried Ipswich clams and signature pot roast beckon, you can come back again and again to enjoy them.
Los Angeles / 323-663-3104
If chef Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee and sister Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong’s 300-dish menu is too much, order from the 100 or so homey dishes on the back page. Or just let Jazz choose. Go-to’s include mango salad with cashews and fried catfish, grilled prawns in a crimson curry and blue-crab salad with papaya and lime.
JOAN’S ON THIRD
Los Angeles / 323-655-2285
Joan McNamara picked the right neighborhood when she opened in 1995. It wasn’t long before her place became an eat-in and to-go hot spot: fresh baked scones and cupcakes, imported and domestic cheeses, heavenly wraps and entrées and even hard-to-find groceries. It’s a mini-Harrods.
Hollywood / 323-660-6196
Amid the Americanized Asian selections, you’ll find a wonderland of Isaan specialties in the heart of Thai Town: searing green papaya salad, zippy larb with the crunch of toasted rice powder and brilliant home-cured Isaan sausage.
LA CASITA MEXICANA
Bell / 323-773-1898
In this homey restaurant, every ounce of mole, every lovingly stuffed chile en nogada and every slice of cecina expresses the passion of chef-owners Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo. Perfect for those seeking the soul of modern Mexican cooking.
LAMILL COFFEE BOUTIQUE
Silver Lake / 323-663-4441
Choose your beans—all roasted in-house— then your brewing method, whether French press, hand-dripped iced or siphon brew “performed” in a Rube Goldberg–inspired contraption. Breakfast is a big draw here, especially cream-filled doughnut holes and hearty egg dishes served in ramekins. Michael Cimarusti of Providence curates the menu.
Los Angeles / 213-483-8050
Yes, even New Yorkers make the pilgrimage to the 64-year-old Los Angeles staple for what just may be the best pastrami sandwich in the country. Hand sliced, it’s piled high and served between two slices of rye double-baked to give it the optimum crunchy crust. Sublime.
LAZY OX CANTEEN
Little Tokyo / 213-626-5299
Josef Centeno abandoned the high-endrestaurant track to focus on his own brand of casual global cooking. Just a few creations: Jerusalem artichoke with roasted apples and aged balsamic, creamy farro with pine nuts and pea-tendril puree, Monterey Bay abalone with English peas and artichoke barigoule. Oh, and one of the best burgers in town.
Los Angeles / 323-930-2211
Hollywood / 323-465-2500
Studio City / 818-508-5300
Jimmy Shaw’s ever reliable menu of regional Mexican items outgrew its Original Farmers’ Market stall. Now the mushroom tacos laced with epazote and sopes piled high with cochinita pibil can be had in proper restaurants.
Hollywood / 323-962-6369
Everybody loves a secret address, and Lou Amdur’s quirky wine bar—serving more than 30 selections by the glass—wedged into a nondescript strip mall—is the closest thing to a funky Paris oenophile’s heaven you’ll find anywhere in the area. There’s a map of where everything comes from on a blackboard above the banquettes. Lots of charcuterie, and don’t miss the Monday wine-pairing suppers.
Los Angeles / 323-655-6277
Suzanne Goin was practically a kid when she left her position as chef de cuisine at Campanile to open Lucques—named after a Languedoc olive—with Caroline Styne. It’s sensual Mediterranean cooking inspired by what she finds at local farmers’ markets. Desserts are simple and comforting. And Styne’s wine list is interesting and deeply personal.
Artesia / 562-865-7340
Filipino food at its homestyle best, which means that, ultimately, it’s all about the pork: Crispy pata (massive fried-pork shanks) and sisig (cubes of fatty pork sluiced with citrus and tossed with flecks of ginger, scallion and peppers) are just two of the menu musts.
Koreatown / 213-736-6668
Country home cooking, Korean style. The specialty of the house is “delicious soup with dough flakes,” but chef-owner Kyoung Sun Lee’s greatest pride may be her old-school banchan—an array of complimentary appetizers that come with every meal.
Costa Mesa / 714-434-7900
Great French fare perfect after a South Coast Plaza shopping excursion. Start with some of Florent and Amelia Marneau’s house-made charcuterie or a platter of perfect oysters. A wood-burning oven turns out savory tarts, and the chefs here are masters at braising.
Los Angeles / 310-390-9241
Featuring the seafood-centric food of Sinaloa and Nayarit, this place specializes in pescado zarandeado: whole butterflied fish marinated in soy, grilled and served on a plastic tray. Beyond that, it's shrimp in tequila sauce, shrimp in cheese sauce and raw shrimp in green-chile sauce, to name just a few. Each is unique.
Beverly Hills / 310-659-9639
Ground zero for Nobu Matsuhisa’s global sushi empire is still the funky little place where it all began. “New-style sashimi” doused with warm olive oil, hamachi topped with jalapeño, squid “pasta” with asparagus—the chef’s genius is in augmenting the normally austere Japanese palette with garlic, chiles, even butter.
Santa Monica / 310-395-0881
With tableside service, caviar and private dining areas for intimate gatherings, the awardwinning special-occasion restaurant offers not one but several tasting menus. Cooking is consistently rich in reductions, lobster and a panoply of luxe ingredients.
Los Angeles / 213-747-2141
Ricardo Zarate’s Mo-Chica is a place of refinement... rolling out of a stall in a near-downtown warehouse. Peruvian dishes with European and Japanese inflections abound: ceviches dressed with ice emulsions, lamb shanks stewed in black beer and cilantro.
Los Feliz / 323-644-2885
Pizzaiolo Bez Compani makes wood-fired Neapolitan pizza from wild-yeast sourdough. Total dedication to the pie, which is always majestic.
West Los Angeles / 310-479-3939
He may have sold his eponymous restaurant, but sushi chef Morihiro Onodera is staying on two days a week. He’s still polishing his own rice (the fresher the better) and preparing pristine (if expensive) omakase for his fans.
Los Angeles / 323-297-0100
Los Angeles / 323-297-0101
Reservations are a must for tables at Pizzeria Mozza, but seats at the bar, where you can watch the pizzaiolo assemble one of Nancy Silverton’s exceptional concoctions are a possibility. Next door at the fancier Osteria Mozza, you’ll see partner Mario Batali’s influence in the robust pastas and classic Italian mains.
MUMBAI KI GALLIYON SE
Artesia / 562-860-6699
The vegetarian fare at this modest restaurant is an ode to the street food of India’s largest city. Try the otherworldly dabeli—spicy potato sliders with pomegranate seeds, green grapes and peanuts—and the pav bhaji, a smoldering tomato curry with blocks of buttery bread.
MUSSO & FRANK GRILL
Hollywood / 323-467-7788
So retro they still don’t have a full website. Musso & Frank may look a bit worn around the edges, but wouldn’t you be at 92? Go if just to revisit old Hollywood and wax nostalgic for the ghosts of F. Scott Fitzgerald and all the other Tinseltown writers who used to hang here.
OTAFUKU NOODLE HOUSE
Gardena / 310-532-9348
This shrine to soba is a purist’s paradise: Baskets of handmade buckwheat noodles can be savored alone or dipped into a sauce. There are plenty of composed options, too, including noodle soups paired with crunchy shrimp tempura or tender barbecued eel.
PALATE FOOD + WINE
Glendale / 818-662-9463
An informal and relaxed wine bar and shop, offering an extensive selection in one sprawling space. One look at chef-owner Octavio Becerra’s single-page, weekly changing menu, and you’ll want it all. There’s also a three-course prix-fixe supper on Sundays.
Koreatown / 213-380-1717
This may be the one place on which all Korean BBQ aficionados can agree. It’s a sleek, modern temple to all things beef: entire bowls of prime bulgogi, shockingly tender galbi and gloriously marbled strips of Kobe-style beef.
Downtown / 213-972-3331
The contemporary French menu from Ducasse disciple Tony Esnault may be more intellectual than flat-out sensual, but the ambience, service, food and wine work seamlessly.
PHILIPPE THE ORIGINAL
Downtown / 213-628-3781
To get one of the signature French dips—beef, pork, lamb, turkey or ham—at this 103-year-old staple, you stand in one of 10 lines that inch toward their respective carvers. To drink? Go for iced tea, lemonade or a glass of red from a surprisingly decent little wine list.
Jefferson Park / 323-292-7613
Los Angeles / 323-731-4772
Inglewood / 310-412-7135
A smokehouse empire built on ribs. They have all kinds, but here it’s all about the beef—thick, almost Flinstonian slabs, sauced as you like it.
Los Angeles / 323-460-4170
Chef and co-owner Michael Cimarusti explores the essence of fresh seafood, culled from longtime suppliers, for an elegant, innovative menu. Under partner Donato Poto, service is first-rate, too. Well worth a splurge.
Norwalk / 562-921-2124
This place introduced much of L.A. to regional Thai. The chile-singed cooking of Isaan and Chiang Mai shines here in nam kao tod (crispy rice salad with Thai sausage), kang hung lay (garlicky pork curry) and khao soi (Burmeseinfluenced noodle soup with coconut milk).
Downtown / 213-749-1460
It gets no better than landmark chef John Sedlar’s sizzling interpretation of the cuisines of Mexico, Spain, South America and the American Southwest. And bar master Julian Cox’s cocktails—think imaginative to the point of magical—are a supreme accompaniment.
Los Angeles / 310-391-1101
Torrance / 310-212-1101
Costa Mesa / 714-434-1101
This Hokkaido transplant is a food-court minichain that serves some of the best ramen in Southern California. Long-simmered pork broth has the texture of creamy velvet, and nestled within are perfectly al dente noodles and tender, meaty slices.
Los Angeles (two locations) / 323-906-2649, 323-405-7055
Art-school graduate Tai Kim has chosen ice cream as his medium, inventing flavors every day. Blueberry lavender honey? Check. Salty mascarpone? Check—and awesome. Beet cashew? Check—and genuinely mindblowing.
SO KONG DONG
Koreatown / 213-380-3737
Here the soon tofu is a hot stone bowl full of beef broth and bean curd so soft it could pass for crème brûlée. Comes with your choice of add-ins. One tip: Get it spicy.
Beverly Hills / 310-385-0880
With fine cuisine, a garden with olive trees and fairy lights, a phenomenal wine list, exceptional service and just the right pinch of magic, venerable Spago remains one of Los Angeles’ top tables.
STUDIO AT MONTAGE LAGUNA BEACH
Laguna Beach / 949-715-6420
Combining a breathtaking cliffside ocean view with polished cooking from Craig Strong, Studio at Montage makes the elegant restaurant a true destination. Strong’s approach to cuisine—modern French with California influences—comes from years of impeccable pedigree at restaurants worldwide. His food is accessible, engaging and beautifully executed.
SURATI FARSAN MART
Artesia / 562-860-2310
Those who love the light, snacky Indian meals called chat can get their bhel-puri or dahi-vada fix at any number of places. Surati Farsan Mart provides a refined version of vegetarian specialties seasoned with the tastes of Gujarat State in western India.
TACOS BAJA ENSENADA
East Los Angeles / 323-887-1980
There is no culinary pleasure more satisfying than just-fried hunks of fish, crisp cabbage and cool crema—all on a fresh tortilla. Sitting outside, watching the East L.A. traffic while you snarf tacos to your heart’s content may be the cheapest legal pleasure in Southern California. For the brave: skate tacos.
Torrance / 310-781-9407
This packed place is an izakaya apart, with a focus on Kyoto-style yakitori and oden. Skewers of yakitori are threaded with Jidori chicken that dissolves on contact. But it’s the oden— typically a homey, one-pot stew—that’s truly unique, offered in individual, à la carte options. Don’t miss the charcoal-grilled whole squid.
Beverly Hills / 310-247-8939
Hands down the priciest restaurant in L.A. Hiro Urasawa serves an exquisite kaisekistyle meal course by lovely course to just 10 seats—a sushi bar and a couple of extra tables. But once you’ve experienced the difference, there’s just no substitute./p>
Santa Monica / 310-829-4313
Piero Selvaggio’s long-reigning Italian has made a strong comeback under chefs Nico Chessa and Davide Giova. The food is nudging toward the same level as the stupendous wine list. Superb tasting menu.
Garden Grove / 714-531-8253
A fixture in the Vietnamese community, Vien Dong adds to our culinary lexicon such northern Vietnamese specialties as bun cha Hanoi (smoky grilled pork) and banh tom (sweet potato and shrimp fritters). Everyone in Little Saigon knows former owner Tony Lam, the first Vietnamese-born person elected to political office in the U.S.
Brentwood / 310-207-0127
Nicola Mastronardi’s cooking is rigorously executed and delicious. On Monday nights, the chef makes pizza in the wood-burning oven— hint, the classic margherita with bufala and cherry tomatoes is sheer perfection.
Downtown / 213-743-8824
On the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, this eatery features a wraparound view and a menu of high-end Chinese and Asian food filtered through a French-California sensibility.
Downtown / 213-687-4444
We’ve always had hot-dog stands, but for a true sausage spot, we had to wait for Wurstküche. The amiable place has it all, from the standard bratwurst and bockwurst to a sweet Filipino Marharlika to exotics like smoked alligator with pork or rattlesnake and rabbit with jalapeños. Of course, wash them down with an international array of draft and bottled beers.
XIANG WEI LOU
San Gabriel / 626-289-2276
The dining room itself offers a fiery foreshadowing: Garlands of chiles hanging like streamers, and they’re a spicy signal of the restaurant’s Hunanese cooking. Try the steamed whole fish massaged with chile and garlic, the cumin-laced lamb and the cured ham tossed with vegetables and chiles.